Bio Roundup: Merger Drama, FDA Trauma, Big IPOs, CRISPR Fights & More

Xconomy National — 

It was a busy week. If we had to choose a theme, it was all about getting together. Two huge drug companies, AbbVie and Allergan, said they’d be better as one. Two more huge drug companies, Celgene and Bristol-Myers Squibb, learned they would have to leave a big product behind if they want to merge.

Twenty Democrats came together across two evenings to bash huge drug companies (among other topics), angling to be the one to challenge Donald Trump next year. And it looks like two CRISPR-Cas9 rivals will be getting together a lot more in Washington, DC, where the US patent office has re-opened a long-running battle over ownership of the revolutionary gene-editing technology.

There’s plenty more to chew on, from giant IPOs to FDA decisions. If memory serves—and maybe it doesn’t—John Lennon once sang, “Come together… right now… over the latest bio roundup.” That’s good advice.


—AbbVie (NYSE: ABBV) agreed to buy Allergan (NYSE: AGN) for $63 billion, a megamerger of two companies straining to diversify. Allergan, best known for aesthetics products like Botox, has struggled with drug R&D. AbbVie needs to soften the blow of the looming patent loss of Humira, the world’s top-selling drug. AbbVie’s shares sank 16 percent, a $20 billion loss in value.

—Not over til it’s over? The CRISPR patent fight has been rekindled by a US patent office decision to compare rival work from camps led by the Broad Institute and the University of California, Berkeley. The goal is to decide who invented the use of CRISPR-Cas9 to edit the DNA of eukaryotic cells.

—Adaptive Biotechnologies (NASDAQ: ADAP) and BridgeBio (NASDAQ: BBIO) closed the second quarter with a bang, raising a combined $648 million from their IPOs. Adaptive is trying to expand its sequencing technology into a pharma business, while BridgeBio is building an unusual corporate structure for rare-disease drug development.

—The vast field of Democrats running for president debated over two nights this week. Here’s a quick fact check of the first evening’s comments on healthcare and pharmaceuticals. And here’s a full transcript. And here’s a look at the transcript and healthcare soundbites from night two.

—Candidates said drug companies should be held accountable for the epidemic of opioid-related deaths across America. In the first major trial, the state of Oklahoma called its final witness to the stand this week. Defendant Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ) will soon begin its defense.


Encoded Therapeutics raised $104 million from Illumina (NASDAQ: ILMN) and others to join the ranks of companies aiming to expand gene therapy’s reach. Its first program, for the rare epilepsy Dravet syndrome, will start human testing in 2021—and rival an RNA-based drug from newly public Stoke Therapeutics (NASDAQ: STOK).

—PanTheryx of Boulder, CO, raised $50 million to develop experimental microbiome treatments for gastrointestinal disorders.

—Karuna Therapeutics bagged $89.2 million in an IPO that will back a Phase 2 study of an experimental schizophrenia drug.

—Morphic Holding (NASDAQ: MORF), which is developing integrin drugs for a variety of diseases, also netted about $90 million in its IPO.

—GenFit (NASDAQ: GNFT) received $35 million upfront from Terns Pharmaceuticals for Chinese rights to GenFit’s experimental nonalcoholic steatohepatitis drug elafibranor. Phase 3 results are expected this year.

—UnitedHealthGroup (NYSE: UNH) agreed to buy patient networking group PatientsLikeMe months after a federal foreign investment committee pressured Chinese firm iCarbonX to divest its stake in the company. Here’s more from MobiHealth News.

—Antitrust regulators have forced Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE: BMY) to sell off Celgene’s (NASDAQ: CELG) anti-inflammatory drug apremilast (Otezla) before the two can complete their $74 billion deal. Otezla generated $1.6 billion in 2018. Bristol shares fell 7.5 percent.


—AMAG Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: AMAG) won FDA approval for bremelanotide (Vylessi), a libido drug for premenopausal women. The nod came even though the drug barely beat a placebo and caused nausea in 40 percent of women in a Phase 3 study.

—The FDA reversed course and will review Zogenix’s (NASDAQ: ZGNX) Dravet syndrome drug fenfluramine (Fintepla) for approval without additional studies. The FDA had initially called Zogenix’s application “insufficient” in April. Shares climbed 20 percent.

—A month after the FDA rejected its experimental ovarian cancer drug mirvetuximab soravtansine, Waltham, MA-based Immunogen (NASDAQ: IMGN) announced plans to cut 220 jobs and shutter its R&D. Immunogen will put much of its resources into a new Phase 3 trial, FORWARD II, in ovarian cancer.

—The agency approved eculizumab (Soliris) from Alexion Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ALXN) for the most … Next Page »

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